Generalize or Specialize?

bigstock-A-pen-resting-on-a-seafarer-smaller.jpgThis is an age old debate among freelancers – specialization versus generalization. Though I did not plan to be, I am a generalist.

Recently I took an introductory digital journalism course, and one of the experts said that journalists need to specialize in a subject, even one with a very narrow focus like containers in a shipyard. I took this advice to heart, berating myself for writing about a lot of different things – business, finance, insurance, community news, travel, lifestyle, health and more. I’ve been racking my brain, trying to figure out what I know the best, so I can really focus on that one thing.

I told a friend about this the other night, and she encouraged me to think more broadly. She assured me that being a generalist is completely fine – especially if it works well for me. Having heard two sides of the issue, I tend to agree with my friend. Being a generalist works for me. It allows me to take different kinds of assignments and to be versatile when my editors need me to be. As someone who gets bored easily and needs a challenge, I love the variety of what I do. One day I’m writing about horses, the next about identify theft.

I could specialize in business, if that suited me. My degree is in business administration, and I have a background in financial services (banking, insurance, employee benefits, retirement planning), so I write a lot about finance. But I have other interests and am working toward building up a portfolio of travel writing. If I specialized, I wouldn’t have the opportunity to branch into new fields.

I have also found that being a generalist helps me financially too. By generalizing, I must diversify, writing for different kinds of magazines rather than focusing on a few niche-based publications. Having written for a few that have folded in recent years, this is a smart move. If one of my magazines closes shop, my income won’t suffer a fatal blow, where it could if I wrote for more niche-based publications and clients.

When deciding to generalize or specialize, different factors come into play – experience, interest, income, market. I encourage you to look at the types of work that you do. If you like the mix and it is advantageous to you financially, don’t change because an expert tells you that you’re doing something wrong. Do what’s right for you, and write what you want to write.

~ Dana



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